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'Friday Night Lights': 'This is the game you're going to talk about'

Fnl____12___ One more to go. "Friday Night Lights" fans have been through this before. As the third season of "Friday Night Lights" comes to an end, the season finale faces the distinct possibility of being the final send-off for the series. And with many of this year's principal characters going off to college, this seems, perhaps, a fine time to call it a day.

But after viewing Episodes 12 and 13 of this shortened, 13-episode season of "Friday Night Lights," which wraps Jan. 14 on DirecTV and premieres two days later on NBC, "Friday Night Lights" has put forth its most compelling argument yet that it deserves a fourth season.

Episode 12 is nearly all football, giving us a detailed state championship in which the show expertly highlights the games within the game. And next's week season finale offers a challenging plot twist that provides a tantalizing opportunity to rewrite the series.

But that's jumping ahead.

Season 3 of "Friday Night Lights" got off to a fast start. The show's principals of Eric and Tami Taylor, portrayed by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, opened the season having to adjust to a new power dynamic, and "Friday Night Lights" handled it with its expected grace. The season's first four episodes, in particular, were strong, with Eric having to reinstate some confidence in the departing Brian "Smash" Williams (Gaius Charles), and Tami taking on all of Dillon, Texas, in a battle over academic and athletic funding.

There were some weak spots that followed. The continued downfall of Buddy Garrity (Brad Leland) makes him TV's most lovable villain, but some of the relationship dramas grew tired. Little was done with Buddy's daughter, Lyla (Minka Kelly), especially in comparison with her excellent born-again plot in Season 2, and her on-again/off-again relations with Tim Riggins (Taylor Kitsch) was predictably rocky and lacked any real tension.

"Friday Night Lights" welcomed a terrific newcomer in the lesbian indie rocker Devin (Stephanie Hunt) — a character who absolutely needs her own story arc if "Friday Night Lights" continues after this season — but the McCoy boys were Season 3's most prominent newbies. It's a shame that it wasn't until Episode 12 that freshman quarterback J.D. (Jeremy Sumpter) and evil rich pops Joe (D.W. Moffett) started to show some real life.

Before the holiday, "Friday Night Lights" ended with Joe punching his son. This week's episode opened with Tami being urged to report the child abuse to the state. Her initial hesitation seemed off — she's the principal, and she's always been by the book — but the call was made, and the fictional town of Dillon may never be the same again.

Reporting the McCoy abuse has potentially disastrous effects on Eric's career. All season long, "Friday Night Lights" has done a fine job of showing the gap between the middle and upper class. It's no secret that McCoy is the one pulling the strings, his money funding the football boosters and supplying a USC-trained football coach for his son's prized arm.

Even Buddy Garrity seems unable to fully stand up to Joe McCoy. When Joe speaks, it's usually in a straight monotone, and it's hard to tell if he's making a threat or just isn't all that interesting. It's also no secret that Joe has had it in for Eric from the beginning, inserting his pet trainer Wade onto the coach's staff when Coach Mac McGill (Blue Deckert) suffered a heart attack.

So when the Panthers make a stunning comeback in the state championship, taking a 28-27 lead on a trick play, there's only one person Joe McCoy has to blame, and that's Eric. The young J.D. is upset with Eric for following the law and reporting the abuse, and he shows it on the field, getting sacked and ranting and raving at his offensive line. That makes two episodes in a row that the puny-armed freshman has shown some fire, and an ability to break out of his dad's shadow.

It's nice that Matt Saracen (Zach Gilford) almost saves the day, getting an opportunity once again to play quarterback. "Friday Night Lights" has been kind to its graduating class this season. Things worked out well — perhaps too well — for Smash and Street, and Saracen is on the verge of going to the Art Institute of Chicago. Even the perpetual good-boy screw-up Riggins is on the verge of going to college (San Antonio State).

Perhaps that's been the main weakness of the third season of "Friday Night Lights." With half the cast set to graduate from high school, there were episodes in which the show felt as if it was in a bit of a waiting period. The McCoy boys haven't been completely fleshed out, as the series has instead taken great pains to make sure each of its graduating students get a proper send-off. Indeed, when Tyra (Adrianne Palicki) and Landry (Jesse Plemons) eventually kiss, it's nice, but anticlimactic. At last! We can move on to other matters.

And this episode doesn't disappoint. The football game itself is masterfully designed, as the beloved Panthers take one hit after another. When the comeback begins, the team does it in short, quick plays, and the game feels real.

When Eric benches his young star in J.D., Joe's stare is hidden by sunglasses, but his angrily stoic stance says enough. J.D. screws up, sure, but Joe isn't going to blame his own attack. Instead, he's going to blame the man who called the cops.

A pitch-perfect speech from the coach after the game isn't going to save him in Joe's mind, but the look on Riggins' face is one of the star's finest moments of the season. He sits listening to coach, struggling not to smile, but it's clear he's relishing every moment of his final high school year, and he'll be dearly missed if the series continues.

Says Eric, "This is the game people are going to talk about for years to come. This is the game you're going to talk about." And here's hoping it's not the last one we get to see.

Best line: Early on, when Landry is helping Tyra with her college entrance essay, he sends her back to the laptop, criticizing that every paragraph somehow brings up her job at Applebee's. Replies Tyra, "It's a metaphor!"

— Todd Martens

Photo: Taylor Kitsch as Tim Riggins. Credit: DirecTV/NBC.

Comments () | Archives (13)

I thought Landry's "It reads like a five-page needlepoint pillow." was the line of the year.
That Tyra-Landry kiss was anything but anticlimatic. It was a wonderful, wonderful buildup with Tyra reading the essay, and after all they've been through, a chart-topping moment for them. Finally, you think, they're going to stick together.

As the wife of a high school football coach, I for one hope this show comes back! This is the only one my DVR is set to record. This small Texas town is very real to me. The relationships of Coach Taylor and Tami are a "breathe of fresh air" in an otherwise "typical hectic high school drama" setting. But where I come from we call it, "Football Friday NIght". You would be hard put to find more than a handful of people home. They are all at the game!
Whether you agree with the writers or not, it is quite obvious to me they did their "homework" and spent some time in an actual high school setting.
Please come back next season.

This show is almost too beautiful to be on tv. May it go on for many, many years.

This show is my heartbeat. I have never been so moved by or involved with characters and their stories, and I pray to the highest heavens for many more seasons. I don't think a better show has ever or will ever exist. HOW DO WE FIGHT FOR MORE?!

Episode 12 was one of the best overall episode since some from the first season, it felt very much like the movie itself, and it almost seemed perfect for the first half of a two hour series finale. I honestly don't want the series to end either, but find it very hard to see how it will with the declining viewership (let's see how it does on NBC) and most of the main cast graduating.

I certainly hope to see this show comeback for a 4th season. As a former high school and collegiate athlete turned coach, I can sympathize and understand many of the situations shown in the show. The writers have done a tremendous job leveling both football and the lives of small town America. If the show is to continue on, I believe the writers should touch on Dillions "off season" and look at up and coming players from junior varsity who will make the varsity team and really play on the legacy of former players such as Smash and Street.
It also would be nice to see some focus on defensive players as well, as with the state championship game in season 3's finale, while it felt like a real game, when the defense took the field there was no connection with those players in the same way that there has been over the past 3 seasons with offensive players.

A very well-written snyopsis of the incredible third season. The only other real setback facing Coach Taylor and the town of Dillion would be the possible redistricting of the town that would otherwise create two Dillion football teams. That could be an interesting plot point if developed correctly.

I am not too sure where to take things if the remaining core characters leave for college. But given the good writing thus far, I am sure it can be developed.

To paraphrase Coach Taylor, "This is the TV show more people should talk about".

I am a huge fan of this excellent show. The writing and the evolution of the characters in season 3 reinforce that this show deserves many more year. Coach Taylor and Tami are genuine and are great role models. Peter Berg is on of the more inovative minds in Hollywood today. NBC, Direct TV 101 renew this gem, and let it grow. It sure beats the hell out of the reality TV crap that you program on the six nights a week.

This series has indeed exceeded my expectations time and time again. For a person that was never very interested in sports, let alone football, I have found a beauty to the game through this show. I have watched every minute and have been there for every character's greatest and worst moments. I wish I could say that I have complete faith in the shows ability to return for a fourth season, but I'm prepared for a cancellation. I just watched the twelfth episode of the season and it was one of the most compelling and heartfelt episodes to date. The way this season is ending is incredible. If the powers that be decide not to continue the show, then it will definitely go out on top in my book.

This season has been the best yet. I hope it comes back for a fourth. Even though most of the main characters are graduating, I am sure the writers could bring in some new ones that would keep us interested. I hope more people watch it on NBC.

This is the best show on TV, it's so well written and goes by so fast! Many thanks to Vaseline for sponsoring this show on DTV, it's been great to watch commercial free! Thanks to the 101 for bringing this amazing show to America, I sure hope Peter Berg gets a 4th season put together, he did such an amazing job with season 3.

The cast, the writers have done an amazing job, I will miss this show until the 4th season is released! Please keep this wonderful epic going!

Just watched it today. Absolutely stunning.

A couple buddies and I had to subscribe to Direct tv just
to watch the season. In Michigan mind you. Snow, snow..
Can't see keeping Satellite if they cancel it.

People are starving for good shows. Feed them.

No question this is an excellent, well-written show with an impressive collection of talent. The bar was raised higher each season, which makes it harder to re-capture the magic for future seasons. Sometimes taking a good show too far can ruin it. If they can't pull off a 4th season to match the others, let the 3 great seasons be fondly remembered instead of becoming another "ER", "Seinfeld", "Greys Anatomy", "Party of 5" or countless other shows that couldn't duplicate their early success, lost freshness and sincerity, and ultimately disappointed its core fans.


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